Posted in Willy on June 8, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Things happen fast.  After days of waiting in visa-limbo, I was suddenly rushing around Oxford with a typical last-minute checklist in my pocket: toothpaste, sunscreen, pencils, coffee, etc.  I find that these are the sorts of items I am always buying in the days or hours before an expedition, and there are other familiar rhythms, too: writing to loved ones; last minute phone calls; hectic emails trying to square things up with Omprakash.  Many of my preparations for this trip have been specifically related to my ongoing doctoral research about girls’ education in rural Pakistan: I’ve been calling research collaborators and school principals, printing off the questionnaires I developed during my last research trip in March/April, and trying to filter my ever-expanding  reading list for articles that are pointed towards the geographical and theoretical particularities that feel most relevant at this stage of my thesis.  Meanwhile, other aspects of last-minute preparations felt more like a classic mountain expedition. How many pairs of socks?  Gloves?  Fresh batteries in my headlamp?  Do they sell the type of fuel we need for our stoves?  Who is bringing the first aid kit?  Are we really bringing Viagra?  (Yes.)  Do I want this old puffy jacket even though all of the feathers are falling out?  (Yes.)  Then there is the packing itself — that familiar laying out of gear, the careful stuffing into the monster backpack, the final hefting onto knee and then onto shoulders.

What is most familiar in all of this, for better or worse, are those final embraces with loved ones– the bittersweet leavings, the small gifts we exchange, the music played outdoors, the clinking of glasses.  At the pub the night before I left, one friend literally gave me the shirt off of his back!  There is such tenderness in departing, and I am grateful to love so much and so many that it is always hard to leave, no matter where I’m going.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Journey Through the Blender

Posted in Jake, Musings on June 6, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Sometimes the final days or hours before departing on a big trip can resemble a blender with the lid popped off; or better yet, one of those hot-air popcorn makers that a little kid can’t resist opening up just as the little kernels are at their most explosive point, when they’re gaining momentum and going off like a fireworks finale.  At some point, one can reach a critical point of personal growth and accept the reality of what is.  If anything’s missing, we just don’t need it!  Departure time is fast approaching and I for one have felt a certain level of this blender effect.  But that probably has everything to do with my own personal disorganization and general junk show of a life, and nothing to do with a Karmic and/or Cosmic vendetta against me (Jake).  Willy can speak for himself, but judging from the past 96 hours or so, I’m sure he’ll agree to that as well.

Ben and Jake will depart from the States tomorrow eve; and Willy, after a harrowing few days of dealing with the Pakistani Consulate in London which resulted in his visa in hand just hours ago(!), will peace out from the UK on Wednesday.  We three will rendezvous somewhere at the airport in Islamabad on the 9th.  That same day, we are scheduled to take a flight to Skardu (won’t even leave the airport in Islamabad… Inshalla!)  Josh is still fighting the good fight in Peru; we hope he’s sending awesome mountains and enjoying killer weather.

But now, in the end as I sit here and try to think about what actually I’ve been doing for the past few days, I realize that: it hasn’t been that much!  And the small nagging things are only just that; little yapping dogs, barking at the heels of the mind, and denying peace -for sure – but ultimately not causing any real harm.  We’re in good shape; the news from Willy this afternoon about his personal epic and ultimate victory were a huge boost, and now that the last minute of last minute things are done (bank has been called, passport and visa have been copied, equipment sorted/culled/packed) with nothing but the ticking of the clock to bother my piece of mind, I feel like, yes… things have come together at last.

The Seed

Posted in Jake, Musings on May 28, 2011 by charakusa 2011

At what point in time does an expedition begin?  With the lacing of the boots and the first few tentative steps forward toward the unknown?  Is it when you walk down the muted gateway and enter the belly of the plane – with butterflies floating in your own stomach – the plane that will take you far away from your familiarities and comfort zone?  I wonder if it goes back further still to the inception of the idea, the first inspiration, the glance at the photo that became a stare and then a trance and an obsession.  Or even far, far back, when climbing was new and unfamiliar; when the reality of “climbing” in the mind of the starry eyed novice was a collection of images gleaned from magazines and books; images of haggard and bearded types clinging to small holds with bloody finger tips, determination glinting palpably in their steely eyes and thousands of feet of rarefied mountain air yawning wildly beneath their feet in one fell plunge to the grim and uninviting ice of the glaciers below.  Those pictures – the mind images – that set fire to the imagination, that, separated from the reality of experience in the imagination of the novice, seemed so glorious and far away and unknowable to the inspired beginner that they spawned no specific plan; just the thought: that looks so awesome!  And too, the first step to getting there: finding the nearest climbing gym and discovering just what this world called climbing actually is.  If you can imagine the beginning of a puzzle as the cluttered act of dumping the box of pieces on a table, then maybe this jumble of inspiration in the heart of the novice can be likened to that dumping.  Then carefully observing the mind image of what the final product is to be; we begin carefully pawing through the mess and selecting pieces one by one.

Wow, where to begin?!  Well, if it hadn’t been poor weather in the Bugaboos of the Canadian Rockies, Ben Venter may not have had an excuse to find himself in Golden, Canada, and may never have had a random conversation with some Belgian hardmen who had gone the the Charakusa Valley in 2007 and climbed the first route on Nafee’s Cap (Nico and Oliver Favresse and Sean Villanueva).  He may not have ever seen their photos and learned firsthand beta from them, and possibly would not have been so impacted with the idea of going there.  [Ben, please correct me if this info isn’t accurate!]  If I hadn’t worked along side of the indomitable Willy Oppenheim on a challenging NOLS course in the Coast Range of British Columbia, we may never have had the chance to part ways with an obscure suggestion that “we should try and do a trip in Asia sometime”.  And if Willy hadn’t been close friends with Ben, Ben’s seed thought may not have had the chance to germinate in the way it did.  Finally, if Ben and Josh hadn’t run into each other in a bus station in Argentina, Josh may never have considered cramming his already full year (he’s in Peru at the moment leading a course in advanced expedition training), with yet another epic adventure.  There we are… the seed is germinated; small tendrils of roots are spreading into the fertile soil of our imaginations and the snowball is commencing it’s downhill roll.

Visas!  Joy!  How fun!  My personal office from which I (Jake by the way) executed this complicated maneuver of compiling and sending such a mountain of personal information, was the Redmond, Oregon Public Library.  And I want to take the time here and now the thank Eva, for her undying patience with my stressed out condition at that and other points in time and climbing along side me in the thick and the thin; and also my awesome Mom for playing mail catcher and forwarding on my passport to me; since with my lack of physical address I had to default to the timeless default: Mom and Dad’s house!  To perform such exciting tasks as printing papers and making copies, I needed much help from the proverbial “Grid”.  And to do that I needed to crawl a long way out of my dark little hole of dirtbaggery.  But I still found such obstacles as: Office Depot doesn’t cut passport photos to size…. the librarian was kind enough to lend me an extremely(!) dull pair of scissors which mangled the edges of my beautiful photos to a point that it was with some concern that I stapled them to the front page of the visa application; the nagging idea in the back of my head being: what if they turn me down on the grounds of having unsuitable passport photos?  God forbid.

Team Building and Fitness Preparedness:  I call it that because to call this training would be overstating the reality.  When Ben and I met up here in Yosemite we had no spreadsheet annotated with training blocks.  We just wanted to climb our faces off!  And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  For a while we had kicked around the idea of climbing the Nose of El Cap in a day.  This is routinely done here in Yosemite, but no matter how you look at it, it’s a large undertaking.  Especially having done the route in the past, and knowing first hand just how immense the Big Stone really is.  (Ben soloed the route last year(?), and I spent four days of epic groveling on it in 2008.)  We decided to climb a shorter route on The Captain called Lurking Fear, as a warm up so to speak; to work out systems and dial in our teamwork.  So that’s what we did on Monday.

We got up at 4am, choked down some food and tea, then hiked up to the base of the route.  It took us about 14.5 hours to climb those 2000 feet (by no means record setting!), and we were topping out as the sun was turning crimson in the west.  What we discovered was: what incredible fun it is to climb that much rock all at once!  No haul bags!  No sucky bivvies!  (well, there could be if you don’t make it)  Just one long day.  So, our confidence bolstered, we took two rest days and began to strategize for our push on the Nose.  We topped out with food on Lurking Fear… we could shave a little there.  The tag line was a pain in the tookus… leave it behind…. one rope and no way to retreat…. “fail upwards!”  Puffy jacket or no?  Forecast is looking a bit chilly…. we’ll take one for the follower.  4 liters of water…. a few bars…. some gels…. a sandwich….. an orange.  Yesterday we got up a 4am again.  We started climbing at 5: 37; topped out at 6:20pm.  Now, it’s worth mentioning that a certain friend named Zach, had told us the previous evening that if we were down in time for dinner he would buy us pizza.  I wrote that off as highly unlikely.  But as we neared the top in the afternoon, as the biceps began to cramp, and energy wavered between “just enough” to “just not enough”, the thought of pizza was a nice added piece of motivation, on top of the motivation to not be stumbling down in the dark.  So… Thanks Zach!  The pizza was awesome!

On top after The Nose in a day

Thus, the pieces of the puzzle come together.  I’d like to echo Willy by saying Thank You to Chicago Steel and the American Alpine Club for the significant monetary support, without which, this venture might not have been possible.  Also to Rab and Patagonia for the new clothes and equipment!  We’re psyched!

Gratitude and Excitement

Posted in Willy on May 26, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Many thanks to Nico for providing this photo from the 2007 Belgian expedition!

As our departure dates approach and we scramble with logistical questions about visas, permits, and what kind of harmonicas to bring, we want to take a moment to express our gratitude to the many individuals, organizations, and corporations that have already provided huge support to our expedition.  The American Alpine Club has provided us with two generous grants — the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award and the Mountain Fellowship Grant — and we have received generous gear sponsorships from Rab and Patagonia.  The National Outdoor Leadership School has provided us support from the Instructor Development Fund, and we’ve also received a generous corporate sponsorship from Chicago Steel.  On top of all of this, we feel the support of many friends and well-wishers from within and beyond the climbing community– people who have provided us with photos, ideas, and lots of positive energy.  Many thanks to all!

Expedition Overview

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 by charakusa 2011

On June 15th, our team will embark on a 6 week expedition to the Charakusa Valley in the heart of the Karakorum, Pakistan. We will attempt to climb a 3,500 foot wall that tops out around 20,000 feet!

The West Face of Nafees Cap is a massive wall on the flanks of the famed K7. As this route starts at about 16,500 feet and tops out at 20,000 feet, it would be accurate to describe this wall as ‘an El Capitan on top of Mont Blanc.’ Our team has selected Nafee’s Cap as its primary objective because of its stunning aesthetic quality and more importantly, the classic looking plum line from the glacier to the summit remains unclimbed! There have been 3 attempts by world class teams, however, none of them have been successful on this ‘Directisima.’  This line has the potential to be one of the proudest, most aesthetic routes in the region. Our proposed route follows crack and corner systems in the area of the red line in the photo below.

Nafees’ Cap has been climbed by only two teams—first in 2007 and then in 2009.  The 2007 team climbed Ledgeway to Heaven in a sub-40 hour lightweight push, while the 2009 team spent nine days on Naughty Daddies. As you can see in the photo below, both teams chose routes on the shoulder of the formation instead of taking the hulking west face head-on. There has apparently been one attempt (without a summit) on this region of the face by a German team that retreated due to gear problems and a lack of time.

A: Naughty Daddies: 20 pitches, 5.12. (Lang-Standen-Dowrick-Sedon, 2009) B: Ledgeway to Heaven: 28 pitches, 5.12d. (Favresse-Favresse-Pustelnik-Villanueva, 2007)

Charakusa 2011!

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Welcome to the Charakusa 2011 Blog!

Josh Beckner, Willy Oppenheim, Jake Tipton and Ben Venter are headed to the Charakusa Valley in Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains to attempt a new route on Nafee’s Cap.  From the beginning 0f June until the end of July our team will be in Pakistan.

Art by Dennis Sanders.